‘Save our stroke unit’

The Glengarry News - - Front Page - BY STEVEN WAR­BUR­TON News Staff

Steven Archer re­mem­bers very well what he was do­ing when he suf­fered his first stroke on Feb. 12, 2012.

The then 59-year-old Sum­mer­stown dairy farmer had just re­turned from New Brunswick, where he had been vis­it­ing his son. He was sit­ting in front of his com­puter, watch­ing a livesteam of a hockey game, when he sud­denly started feel­ing very weak. He would later de­scribe the sen­sa­tion as be­ing like “the en­ergy had been taken right out of my body like a bal­loon de­flat­ing.”

At first, he thought it was just a tem­po­rary ill­ness and that it would pass in time. But after mov­ing from the com­puter to a re­clin­ing chair, he re­al­ized that it was much more se­ri­ous. He couldn’t get out of the chair, the left side of his face had drooped way down, and when he tried to speak, his words came out “in a mish­mash.”

Mr. Archer’s wife, Crys­tal, re­al­ized that her hus­band had suf­fered a stroke. She called 911 and he was taken to the Corn­wall Com­mu­nity Hos­pi­tal, where he was given a clot-bust­ing drug.

He spent a month in acute care at the Corn­wall hos­pi­tal be­fore be­ing trans­ferred to Hôpi­tal Glen­garry Me­mo­rial Hos­pi­tal’s stroke re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion pro­gram in Alexan­dria. Two weeks later, he suf­fered an­other stroke.

“I was at the low­est point that I ever thought any­one could ever be in their life,” he says, adding that his only goal at that time was to be able to use the bath­room in pri­vate. At first, he couldn’t even sit up on his own. He says he was fright­ened to sit on the edge of a chair, afraid he might top­ple right over.

To­day Mr. Archer is 65. The ca­sual ob­server would never guess that he is a stroke sur­vivor. His speech is clear. He walks well and has re­gained most of his mo­tor skills, though he’ll tell you that he only fully re­gained the abil­ity to drive his car one year ago.

He is also one of the most pas­sion­ate de­fend­ers of the hos­pi­tal’s stroke re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion

clinic. Last Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon, he and about a dozen other stroke sur­vivors gath­ered at the hos­pi­tal to dis­cuss the im­por­tance of the pro­gram and to urge the Cham­plain Lo­cal Health In­te­gra­tion Net­work (LHIN) to keep the pro­gram in Alexan­dria.

An emo­tional meet­ing

Mr. Archer was far from be­ing the only stroke sur­vivor to speak up. Other sur­vivors, and their fam­i­lies, spoke about their ex­pe­ri­ences in the re­hab unit in Alexan­dria. It was a highly emo­tional ses­sion as they wept over how strokes wreaked havoc in their lives, but they also cried tears of joy over the love and care they re­ceived at HGMH.

Rob MacDuff, a 65-year-old from Hud­son, says he spent five days in Hawkes­bury after he suf­fered a stroke. After a neu­rol­o­gist ex­am­ined him, he was moved to the re­hab clinic in Alexan­dria for 28 days. He says it was one of the best things that could have hap­pened to him.

“I was a big loser for hav­ing a stroke,” says Mr. MacDuff, who was a test pi­lot for 21 years. “But I won the lot­tery big by com­ing here. We had a bunch of an­gels look­ing after us.”

Mr. MacDuff shared a bit of op­ti­mism with his fel­low sur­vivors after not­ing that the LHIN had post­poned its de­ci­sion re­gard­ing the fu­ture of the clinic. He urged the LHIN not to shut it down but to use it as a model.

“Would I have re­cov­ered the same if I went some­where else? There’s no ques­tion that I wouldn’t,” he said. “I sug­gest the LHIN turn this place into a train­ing fa­cil­ity.”

Why it works

Mr. Archer, who spent two months at HGMH, says there are a num­ber of rea­sons why the stroke clinic is so ef­fec­tive.

One of them is lit­er­ally right out­side the door, the hos­pi­tal’s ther­a­peu­tic gar­den.

“When I first came here, my only plea­sure was in the food,” he said. “I ate fresh from the gar­den; I wouldn’t have that at an­other hos­pi­tal where the food is trucked in.”

An­other fac­tor, he says, is the sim­ple lay­out of the cinic. There’s a nurse’s sta­tion right next to the six stroke beds. The sta­tion has a glass wall that looks out on a gazebo and the re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion room.

“It’s sim­ple so it’s not so con­fus­ing,” he says. “The safer and more se­cure you feel, the harder you can work on re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion.”

An­other rea­son is the pro­fes­sion­al­ism and the friend­li­ness of the staff. Mr. Archer and his fel­low sur­vivors say that they were never treated as pa­tients. They were al­ways treated as hu­man be­ings and that has made all the dif­fer­ence.

A clin­i­cal per­spec­tive

The pa­tients and their fam­i­lies aren’t the only ones who want to see the clinic stay in Alexan­dria.

Chan­tal Mageau-Pi­nard, the re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion man­ager who started the clinic nine years ago, says she’d be very dis­ap­pointed if the LHIN were to dis­con­tinue the pro­gram at HGMH.

“I built this pro­gram from the ground up with a team of ded­i­cated pro­fes­sion­als,” she says.

The key to its suc­cess is the fan­tas­tic re­la­tion­ship her staff has with the pa­tients and their fam­i­lies. Cur­rently, her unit treats about 60 stroke pa­tients a year.

“If they work with you, you have a great team dy­namic,” she says. “There’s no bet­ter re­la­tion­ship than a pa­tient-fam­ily-ther­a­pist re­la­tion­ship.”

LHIN’s per­spec­tive

Marc Bour­geois, Di­rec­tor of Com­mu­ni­ca­tions and En­gage­ment at the Cham­plain LHIN, says the agency has “no in­ten­tion of clos­ing beds in that fa­cil­ity.”

“While there had been a rec­om­men­da­tion by the sub-acute ex­ec­u­tive steer­ing com­mit­tee to move the stroke re­hab beds that are cur­rently lo­cated at Glen­garry Me­mo­rial Hos­pi­tal back to Corn­wall Com­mu­nity Hos­pi­tal, the Cham­plain LHIN Board did not sup­port that rec­om­men­da­tion,” he wrote via an Aug. 31 email.

How­ever, that doesn’t mean that the move won’t be con­sid­ered at a later date. Cur­rently, the LHIN Board is pre­par­ing a fi­nal “in­te­gra­tion de­ci­sion” which it ex­pects to is­sue at its Oct. 24 meet­ing. In the mean­time, the LHIN is wel­com­ing pub­lic in­put on the mat­ter. Any­one wish­ing to com­ment should send their views to am­ber.kayed@lhins.on.ca. no later than 5 p.m. Sept. 27.

“Ul­ti­mately, our ob­jec­tive is to en­sure that pa­tients are pro­vided with re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion ser­vices ear­lier in their jour­ney to help them re­gain op­ti­mal func­tion, and in­crease their chance of re­main­ing at home,” said LHIN CEO Chan­tale Le­Clerc. “We be­lieve that this ini­tia­tive will help re­duce over­crowd­ing in hos­pi­tals by de­creas­ing the amount of time pa­tients need to stay in hos­pi­tal after their acute-care phase of hos­pi­tal­iza­tion is com­plete. By op­ti­miz­ing and re­struc­tur­ing the cur­rent sys­tem, we will be in a bet­ter po­si­tion to ad­dress pop­u­la­tion growth and fu­ture sub-acute needs through ex­ist­ing re­sources. And this work will be done with iden­ti­fied providers from across the re­gion.”

Feed­back is im­por­tant

Mr. Archer and his fel­low stroke sur­vivors are urg­ing the pub­lic to send com­ments to the email ad­dress men­tioned above. Some of them say to send a let­ter a week and per­haps even more.

“This place has got to be saved,” he says.

STEVEN WAR­BUR­TON PHOTO

FIGHT­ING FOR THE CLINIC: Alexan­dria res­i­dent and stroke sur­vivor Luc Séguin does an ex­er­cise with his oc­cu­pa­tional ther­a­pist, Heeba Ab­dul­lah, at Hôpi­tal Glen­garry Me­mo­rial Hos­pi­tal last Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon. Also shown is his daugh­ter, Mandy Séguin, and wife, An­nik Pouliot. Pa­tients are launch­ing a drive to keep the fa­cil­ity in Alexan­dria.

STEVEN WAR­BUR­TON PHOTO

FIGHT­ING FOR THE CLINIC: Steve Archer (kneel­ing in front) poses with his fel­low stroke sur­vivors and their fam­i­lies be­side the ther­a­peu­tic gar­den out­side Hôpi­tal Glen­garry Me­mo­rial Hos­pi­tal last Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon. They were at the hos­pi­tal to speak out about the pro­posal to move the hos­pi­tal’s stroke re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion pro­gram to an­other fa­cil­ity.

NA­TURE’S WRATH: Lynda Maxwell shared th­ese pho­tos of trees that were top­pled at her home on the 8th Con­ces­sion near Maxville. An awning was lifted from its moor­ings at the Mom & Burger eatery in Alexan­dria. Dur­ing the out­age, peo­ple kept calm and texted by can­dle­light.

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